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F1 car launches: What we learned ahead of new season

After two weeks of launches, Formula 1 is ready to head to Bahrain for pre-season testing and the first race of the 2024 season.

There was plenty of variety in the ways that the 10 teams chose to reveal their 2024 challengers, ranging from simple digital launches to glitzy and glamorous events in London and Las Vegas.

While fans have enjoyed contrasting views on which team has designed the best livery, ultimately all the drivers will care about it is how their cars perform come the opening day of testing on February 21.

With just days to wait until that moment, it’s time to pause for breath and reflect on the biggest talking points to emerge from the launches.

Silly season looms large

While Lewis Hamilton’s future has been cleared up, more than half of the drivers on the 2024 grid are on contracts that expire at the end of this season.

Along with the hugely-coveted seat Hamilton is vacating at Mercedes, Sergio Perez being in the final year of his Red Bull deal means there could also be a seat alongside Max Verstappen up for grabs. Consequently, just about every one of the drivers on expiring deals faced questions regarding their futures.

Fernando Alonso discusses his chances of replacing Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes, but says he would sit down with Aston Martin first, after the history they have together.

Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso appeared to have put plenty of thought into his approach to the inevitable questioning as he said: “There are only three world champions on the grid and there is only one available.”

Carlos Sainz, ditched by Ferrari to make room for Hamilton, insisted he has nothing to prove and that his body of work, which includes the only non-Red Bull win of 2023, stands him in good stead to fill any available opening.

Meanwhile, Alex Albon, one of the stars of the 2023 season, said he would need to drive even better for Williams this season to keep himself in the frame for a top seat. His words were quickly followed by his team principal James Vowles issuing something of a hands-off warning as he insisted that the British-born Thai driver is under contract until the end of 2025.

Alex Albon believes Lewis Hamilton’s move to Ferrari is ‘amazing’ for the sport and says he remains focused on Williams despite rumours linking him to Mercedes.

It is worth remembering that Hamilton was also said to be under contract with Mercedes for 2025, until his Ferrari move revealed that his deal had included a break clause at the end of 2024.

One thing is clear, silly season has already begun. A period that was once considered to be confined to the summer break has begun in the winter and won’t be over until whenever it is that the 2025 grid is filled.

‘B-team’ debate heating up

While the action on track is what we all love, another entertaining element of F1 is the constant political game-playing that goes on behind the scenes. One of the biggest behind-the-scenes stories of this season looks set to be a debate around the relationship between Red Bull and sister team RB, who share the same ownership.

While Red Bull have dominated the last two F1 seasons, RB (formerly known as AlphaTauri) have been languishing at the back of the field. Frustrated by the gulf in performance, ownership have looked to increase collaboration between the two teams, with reports last year suggesting RB would be moving more of their operations and personnel from Italy to the UK.

The renamed RB team launched their 2024 car with a dramatic reveal video which included drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Yuki Tsunoda.

F1’s regulations allow for certain ‘transferable components’ designed by one team to be bought by another, with AlphaTauri among several to make use of this rule. Haas also have a wide-ranging technical partnership with Ferrari, which includes an office at the Italian giant’s Maranello factory.

McLaren chief executive Zak Brown had in January expressed concerns over the Red Bull-RB relationship, describing it as an “A and B team”. Brown says that since F1 introduced a budget cap in 2021 in an attempt to level the playing field, such relationships between teams are no longer appropriate.

Responding to the comments at RB’s launch, the team’s chief executive Peter Bayer accused critics of the Red Bull-RB relationship of being “egotistic” and suggested concern was based on fears his squad is going to have a successful season.

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McLaren managing director Zak Brown confirms Lando Norris’ contract extension had nothing to do with Lewis Hamilton’s move to Ferrari.

At McLaren’s launch, Brown went a step further as he accused the Red Bull-owned teams of voting in tandem at F1 Commission meetings before insisting that “the FIA really needs to do something” about the situation.

With Red Bull the last team to launch their car, team principal Christian Horner was left to have the final say, for now, on the matter. He accused rivals of having “paranoia” and insisted that the relationship “is no different to other teams that have the supply of components”.

Watch this space.

A grid of RB19s?

While RB are quite simply being transferred certain Red Bull parts, a lot of the field appear to be attempting to imitate the RB19.

Red Bull’s dominance as they won 21 of 22 races last season has left little doubt that the design philosophy they have pursued is the most effective under F1’s current regulations, which were introduced in 2022 and will remain in place until the end of 2025.

Having misguidedly stuck with a radical ‘zero-sidepod’ philosophy for their first two cars of the regulations, Mercedes finally fell into line during the 2023 season and there is certainly Red Bull-influence on the W15.

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff outlines the key changes implemented on his team’s new car and his hopes for the 2024 Formula One season.

Another element of the RB19 that most teams, including Mercedes, have adopted is a push-rod rear suspension, but Ferrari have proved a notable exception to this.

The Italian team’s technical director Enrico Cardile explained the decision to stick with a pull-rod rear was based around an “innovation” in the way the suspension is managed.

It could be hailed as a stroke of genius if Ferrari are strong, but might be seen as a failure to have taken advantage of low-hanging fruit if things don’t quite go to plan.

There is little doubt that Mercedes, and the other teams who have moved towards the Red Bull design, are likely to enjoy benefits, but it remains to be seen whether they will be able to develop.

Optimism at the back, caution at the front…

As the lower half of the 2023 field revealed their 2024 cars during the first week of launches, there was generally a sense of optimism.

The only real exception to that theme came at the first reveal as new Haas team principal Ayao Komatsu concerningly warned that the American-owned squad would be “towards the back of the grid, if not last,” in Bahrain.

With the help of Valtteri Bottas and Zhou Guanyu, Sauber have launched their new car for the 2024 Formula One season.

From then on, there was plenty of positivity as Williams, Sauber, Alpine and RB all talked a good game after revealing drastically altered cars. “Very different,” “completely revised” and “aggressive” were among the descriptions the teams gave to their new challengers.

There was a lot of black on the liveries as teams continued to attempt to save weight with ‘naked’ carbon sections, an issue that Sauber overcame by choosing an extremely bright green to go along with them. Meanwhile, RB’s sparkling blue and white look came as something of a surprise amid the lack of colour to that point.

The second week saw the big players, Aston Martin, Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes launch before the reigning champions Red Bull completed the set.

Lando Norris looks ahead to the 2024 Formula One season after testing out the MCL38 for the first time at Silverstone.

Ferrari, whose one 2023 race win prevented Red Bull from sealing a clean sweep, spoke of claiming more wins, while Aston Martin said they are targeting the team’s first race victory.

However, it was notable that none of the four were willing to commit to being able to sustain a title challenge against Verstappen, perhaps bitten by making such proclamations a year earlier before the Dutchman produced a historically dominant campaign to claim his third successive drivers’ crown.

Those hoping to see Verstappen pushed on a more regular basis this time around will hope that the chasing pack can exceed their own expectations.

Don’t mention… Lewis Hamilton joining Ferrari

While Hamilton’s move to Ferrari was a massive shock, there was an additional surprise caused by the British driver and Italian team choosing to reveal the switch almost a full year before it happens.

Given the seismic nature of the move and the launches offering the first access to most drivers since it was announced, the media were naturally keen to hear their reactions.

However, with teams wanting the launches to be focused on their new cars as opposed to Hamilton or their drivers potentially filling his seat, there was something of a conflict of interest.

Valtteri Bottas believes Lewis Hamilton’s move to Ferrari will have a big impact on the driver market in 2025.

Ferrari applied a strict limit to questions on Hamilton for team principal Frederic Vasseur, Charles Leclerc and the outgoing Sainz.

Mercedes, whose team principal Toto Wolff did hold a press conference after Hamilton’s exit was confirmed, did not provide any direct access to Hamilton or team-mate George Russell.

Meanwhile, Alonso was left to police his own media briefing as he tired of questions about his former team-mate.

The situations were certainly odd, and the questions that were prevented will undoubtedly be asked to drivers at the first opportunity during pre-season testing next week or the opening Grand Prix of the season in Bahrain after that.

Lewis Hamilton reflects on his time at Mercedes as he awaits his final season with the team before moving to Ferrari.

Also hanging over the launches, particularly that of Red Bull, was the ongoing external investigation into team principal Christian Horner following allegations of inappropriate behaviour by a colleague.

Horner opted to attend Red Bull’s reveal on Thursday as he spoke publicly for the first time since the investigation became public and reiterated a full denial of the allegations.

Both situations will continue to dominate the off-track conversation around F1 as testing gets under way next week.

Image: Watch all three days of pre-season testing live on Sky Sports F1

When is F1 pre-season testing?

Pre-season testing takes place from Wednesday February 21 to Friday February 23 at the Bahrain International Circuit with just three days for the teams to get prepared for the new season.

When is the first F1 race?

Just one week later, the opening race of the 2024 season will begin with the Bahrain Grand Prix from February 29 to March 2.

Due to the Muslim holy period of Ramadan, the Bahrain and, seven days later, the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, will be held on a Saturday.

This means practice one and two will take place on Thursdays, with final practice and qualifying on Fridays.

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Watch pre-season testing from Bahrain live on Sky Sports F1 from February 21-23 and every round of the new season, starting with the Bahrain Grand Prix from February 29-March 2. Stream every F1 race and more with a NOW Sports Month Membership

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